At first glance, Iron Man might seem like an odd fit in Marvel’s burgeoning “Noir” line. The tech-savvy superhero is a more futuristic warrior than the defining characters of the noir genre. But if you look past the armor and get inside the man – Tony Stark – you’ll see a daring and driven man who’s not satisfied when he’s not pushing himself and his world to its limits.
In the upcoming four issue series Iron Man: Noir, Iron Man is reset in the year 1938 as a daring adventurer that’s less William Gibson and more Indiana Jones. He’s a traveler, using his mind, wits – and sizable fortune acquired in the thriving iron industry – to seek out legendary sites as the Fountain of Youth and the Gardens of Babylon; consider him both an explorer and a playboy. But he’s got a secret that’s driving him – one that is but one of many innovative twists writer Scott Snyder has taken in repurposing Tony Stark for the noir age.
Joining Snyder on the Iron Man: Noir miniseries is artist Manuel Garcia, and together they plan to take Marvel’s first 21st Century Hero into the world of noir. For more, we talked with Snyder by email.
Newsarama: Marvel has given us the advance solicitation for what Iron Man Noir is about, and I see a rollicking adventure in the vein of some pulp comics classics. What can you tell us about the series, Scott?
Scott Snyder: We’re trying to do something a little different with this one. I loved the first wave of Noir books. Van Lente’s X-Men, Moore’s Wolverine…Those characters fit with the idea of strict noir very well, and the darkness of the stories, narratively, visually, recalled some of my favorite hard-boiled fiction.
I was getting ready to pitch something for Iron Man Noir, playing around with certain darker elements of Tony’s character, his selfishness and alcoholism, playing around with a murder plot…David Hine’s Spider-Man Noir came along and changed things for me. The mysticism in that book, the way the series suggested the pulps of the 30’s, more than noir – it really caught my imagination. I love those old series, and so the idea for Iron Man Noir as pulp rather than strict noir, started to bloom in my head, and it just took off from there. Because while it’s a bit hard to imagine Tony as a noir character (especially in the Iron Man suit – and believe me, I got a lot of jokes from friends about pinstriped, shoulder-padded Iron Man armor and iron fedoras and Tony doing the Charleston in the armor), imagining him as an adventurer from the 1930’s, an Allan Quartermain or Doc Savage – an explorer searching the far corners of the world for legendary treasures – for me, that was a perfect fit. He’s already got the smarts, the bravado, the twinkle in the eye... That was the genesis of the series, re-imagining Tony as an explorer, and star of a series of adventure articles for men’s magazines of the time.
From there, the project became about exploring new aspects of Tony’s character, trying to give him interesting layers that reflected but also differed from Tony of 616. And about creating a story that would do justice to the old pulps, pay homage to them, without feeling dated or familiar – a story that spoke to modern issues a little, too.
Nrama: One of the key parts of the Iron Man mythos is technology – so setting this in a 1930s noir world I don’t see a digital boy like Tony Stark fitting in. What’s Tony’s tech like in these times?
Snyder: Designing the tech for this one was one of the most fun projects I’ve had since starting in comics. Because you’re right, 30’s tech is antique, but the speculative tech at that time – the tech they thought they’d have by the early 40’s – that stuff is sleek and wondrous and vicious looking. Space-age jets and rocket technology. So what we tried to do was really design the suit with that tech in mind. To make something that looked like a futuristic 1930’s super-soldier air-force suit. Because Tony designs for the military, and with the war on the horizon the suit needed to look tough, like a weapon, intimidating. It’s got some very cool tricks up its sleeve, too!
Nrama: You’re not only recasting the character in 1930s noir time, but also his origin. What was it like to figure out noir equivalents to Tony’s classic origin?
Snyder: It was a little challenging, more because Tony’s origin and his character are so well-handled in the main Marvel U. Tony of the film, Tony in Matt Fraction’s amazing run this past year – his psychology has been explored so well by that it was a little intimidating. But then we started thinking about this Tony, an adventurer, what that would mean, why he might be such a thrill seeker – was there a darker motivation, something secret and hidden? What about his relationship to Howard? That’s something that’s always fascinated me – his father is Howard Jr., grandfather is Howard senior, but Tony got named Tony. Why not Howard III? And once we started digging in those two areas, our own Tony sprang to life.
Nrama: This book joins a growing line of “Noir” series Marvel has been up to. What do you think of the idea of taking these modern superheroes and recasting them in the harsh light of noir storytelling?
Snyder: What’s not to love? As a kid, I was always a huge fan of the old “What If” line, and DC’s Elseworlds, and I was really into the Ultimate U… Books that re-imagine classic characters are always at the top of my pull list.
Nrama: Noir is based in the world of prose, but when it’s accompanied by visuals it really sets a tone. For Iron Man Noir you’re working with Manuel Garcia – have you had an opportunity see any work he’s produced for this miniseries?
Snyder: I’m blown away by how good his stuff is. The guy goes to the mat to get things right. He did about 7 separate designs for the armor. I was thrilled by about #5, but with this final one he sent, I couldn’t be happier. I want a statue of the thing for my office! But more generally, what I’ve seen so far has been great, because Manuel really seems to get the concept of the series. He’s added some great flourishes to the layouts to mimic old pulp adventure stories – insets with character bios, dramatic angles and shots that recall pulp covers. His style fits very well, too, because it’s dark and heavy-lined, realistic with some harsh physicality. The characters look like heroes, but human heroes, with girth and flesh and bone. One of the main themes of the story has to do with escapism vs. responsibility, and the blend of heroic and realistic in Manuel’s art underscores this really well.
Nrama: You debuted in comics not long ago right here at the House of Ideas with a one-shot about the first Human Torch for Marvel’s 70th Anniversary. Can you tell us how you got in the mix at Marvel to do that, and now this?
Snyder: Sure. It was an unconventional way in, I guess. While I love comics, my published work until now has been in literary fiction. That’s what I went to school for. I have a book of stories out (Voodoo Heart) with Dial/Random House and a novel forthcoming from them in 2011. But about two years ago I wrote a story for an anthology called Who Can Save Us Now; all new superhero origin stories done by contemporary writers. Mine was about a teenager who comes back from participating in the Bikini Atoll tests in the Pacific with troubling powers. Anyway, Jeanine Schaefer, my editor on Iron Man: Noir, came to the launch for the book and approached me afterwards about the possibility of writing something for Marvel, specifically for the 70th anniversary one-shots and so I pitched a story for the Torch – one of my favorite characters – and they took it.
I used to go to every convention over at the Penn Plaza ballroom (where they now shoot the Maury Povich Show – “you are NOT the father!”)
Snyder Back when the conventions were a bunch of dudes (and pretty much only dudes) with comics in cardboard boxes. But maybe because I just enjoyed reading comics so much, I didn’t think of them as a work possibility at all. Doing this is the most fun I’ve ever had writing. It’s challenging, it’s thrilling, and it’s continually humbling what with all the great writers working now. I’m so happy to get to contribute in particular to the Noir world, and I can’t wait for it to be out there!